A review of: Probst, P., Leppert, T. (2008). Brief Report: Outcomes of a Teacher Training Program for Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders DOI: 10.1007/s10803-008-0561-y
This is a brief report of a preliminary study conducted in Germany examining the effectiveness of a training program for teachers of children with ASDs. The study included 10 children (7 boys; mean age 10) receiving services from 10 teachers (8 females). Each teacher taught one child with ASDs in a special education classroom for children with Mental Retardation (MR). Based on the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS), six of the 10 child participants had severe autism, three had moderate autism, and one had mild autism. The training of the teachers consisted of understanding a basic theoretical model for ASD and learning a series of evidence–based skills to address the needs of children with Autism.
It also taught practical methods and educational skills for everyday life in the classroom by focusing on ‘‘antecedent interventions’’ (Bregman et al. 2005) and comprised methods of ‘‘structured teaching’’ (Mesibov et al. 2006) as well as related techniques of ‘‘visual supports’’ (Prizant et al. 2006). The ‘‘structured teaching’’ method contains five main content areas: (1) spatial and (2) temporal structuring of the child’s social and school environment, (3) implementation of a work-learning system, (4) structured design of tasks, and (5) implementation of visual communication aids.
The training included 3 sessions provided to 2 groups of 5 teachers each. Teachers assessed the behavior of the children before the training and 9 month after the initial training session. Assessment instruments included the Classroom Child Behavioral Symptoms Questionnaire (CCBSQ) and the Classroom Teacher’s Stress Reactions Questionnaire (CTSRQ). The results showed a significant reduction of behavior problems as measured by the CCBSQ and a significant reduction of teachers’ stress as measured by the CTSRQ after the 9 month period. This study provided some early, preliminary, evidence for the effectiveness of this teacher training program. However, when evaluating preliminary research reports such as this, readers should be aware of the standard limitations of this specific methodology. First, this study was conduced with volunteer participants who were all assigned to the experimental (teacher training) methodology. Thus, it is impossible to know whether the improvement was due to the teacher training program or simply to characteristics of the children participants. For example, it is possible that these children could have improved at the same rate in other classrooms with teachers who did not attend the training program. In addition, the outcome was determined by the same teachers who were not blind to the experiment. Thus, it is possible that their reports of improvement were affected by a subjective perceived (placebo-like) effectiveness that may or may not be reflective of actual behavioral changes.
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